'All The Money In The World' Screenwriter On His Role In Those Reshoots [Interview]

When Ridley Scott decided to replace Kevin Spacey in All the Money in the World, it wasn't simply a matter of hiring Christopher Plummer. Actors had to return for quick reshoots, and screenwriter David Scarpa had to make sure the script pages were ready for Plummer.

Plummer now assumes the role of J. Paul Getty. When his grandson (Charlie Plummer) is kidnapped, Getty refuses to pay the ransom. His daughter-in-law Gail Harris (Michelle Williams) can only implore Getty, through his counsel Fletcher Chase (Mark Wahlberg), to help. Scarpa spoke with /Film about penning the screenplay for the new thriller, the differences between the two versions of the film, and the upcoming adaptation of The Cartel that he's writing for Ridley Scott.

This was not just reshooting the original pages. You wrote more?

Not much more. We discussed putting in more stuff. Initially when all of this went down, I was kind of summoned to a glass box at [producer] Bradley Thomas's offices where they said, "None of this can leave this room." It was all kind of like the Normandie invasion where we're about to stage this big rescue attempt. We talked a lot about what we might have to do in terms of enticing some of these actors, specifically to get who would eventually be Christopher Plummer. We didn't know who it was going to be at that point for sure, although Ridley I think had it in mind. Eventually, part of the thing was we had a limitation. A lot of us wanted to open up a can of worms and say we're going to attack this scene again and we're going to do this differently. Claire Simpson, our editor, basically said, "You can't do that or otherwise we're not going to be able to make our release date. We have to have these scenes in such a fashion that we can pick them up and slap them right into the exact spots where the rest of the movie is." There wasn't as much done. I think there were tiny tweaks but not as much.

Did you have to adjust any scenes for Plummer's take on Getty?

Not really. He basically read it and jumped right in. There wasn't much of that at all. It's an unprecedented thing for a filmmaker to be able to say, "Hey, what can we do? How do we want to do it. You get to do it all over again with somebody new. What will that look like? What would we like to get at that we didn't quite get at with Spacey?" But a lot of that is about nuance I think as much as anything.

Have you seen both the Spacey and Plummer scenes and how did they color the movie differently?

I saw Spacey's version. I have yet to see Plummer's version. I've been writing something for Ridley and was under a tight deadline so I wasn't able to go to any of the screenings up until now, so I'll probably be seeing it at about three o'clock.

What were some Getty scenes you would have liked to add if you'd had unlimited time?

When we first shot the movie, I think the first cut of it came out to two hours and 40 minutes. So it was all about cutting the movie down. We cut a lot out of the script to get there. I think the original version of the script probably would've been four hours. Even the first cut, as I said, came to [2:40]. So it's part of just wanting to push back to get little favorite stuff of yours. Ridley's obviously very economical and ruthless so he's always trying to tighten things up and you're always trying to push things back in.

Did the chance to reshoot scenes allow you to make them a little more concise?

As I said, part of Claire's edict to us was, "These things have to fit in exactly where they were. Otherwise everything's going to get thrown off." So as a result, I don't think we were trimming them down per se. But again, I think it's more about Plummer's performance which is what are we going to try to get out of him that we didn't get out of Spacey.

What was that you were trying to get out of him?

I wasn't obviously. That was from Ridley. It was I think a sense of compassion for Getty himself. Although, talking to Plummer, he had his own take on it. I came in and said, "Oh, you've played King Lear before and I've always seen him as a very King Lear figure." He said, "I see him more as Timon of Athens." Very Shakespearean. Basically, he'd thought to the point I thought of and then actually thought a little bit beyond it. I said, "Okay, I'm going to have to check that out." By his very nature, Plummer I think is going to have his own take. Two different actors are going to have wildly different takes and you've just sort of got to go with the way they approach it.

Was it true the kidnappers kept forgetting to keep their masks on?

That actually was a problem. I think one kidnapper was indeed killed for that exact reason, exactly the way it's shown in the movie. It was sort of a running issue. For four months, mind you it's really hot. A lot of these guys aren't that bright, frankly, the lower level kidnappers. They didn't necessarily want to be seen by this kid. That also adds another level of threat to this which is once they're seen, there's one point at which a guy says, "Maybe we should cut the kid's tongue out or his eyes." It adds a whole new level of tension for him which is this kid is dependent on these guys being smart enough to keep their masks on.

They're botching their own operation on a very basic level.

Exactly.

Was it more than the two we see in the film?

No, I think that was basically it. In reality, there was one guy who I think was killed because he forgot to wear his mask. I think he wanted to kill the boy. Instead the guys were like, "We put too much money into this. We're going to kill you instead."

Were any of the prostitutes on the streets of Italy able to identify the vehicle, or were they long gone?

That's an interesting question. I think there was a sighting of the vehicle but I'm not sure if it came from the prostitutes. They did get sightings and it may have come from that. It took place in the Campo de Fiori in Rome, which is very populous with people. Although it was very late at night, I think it was like four o'clock in the morning and it was sort of an off alley. The police did have an eyewitness to it, I believe, but I'm not sure who that would've come from.

Is Getty's quote "If you can count your money, you're not a billionaire" from his Playboy interview like it's shown in the movie?

I don't know if it's from the Playboy interview but it's a famous quote of his. I can assure you, he knew at any given moment exactly how much money he had. That's a quote from him but I can assure you he knew.

I looked up the Playboy interview and found he was a columnist for Playboy for several years.

I think so. I think he had a long running relationship with Playboy. I set it in the Playboy interview because the Playboy interview was such a vestige of that time. If you remember it at all, that was a big respectable [status symbol.] People like Getty would be in the Playboy interview so it was a great period detail, but I don't think he actually uttered those words in the course of a Playboy interview.

What are some crazy details of this kidnapping that couldn't fit in the movie?

It's so much in terms of so many different worlds. It's not so much crazy. It's just being able to get into the life of the boy and Getty's art collecting. I think we hit it. We managed to hit most of it. There's things I may miss a little bit, but I feel like it's mostly there. If there was anything really great, I think we would've found a way to put it in there.

Of course there's some dramatization, but did the actual events give you a structure?

They sort of did. It guided the thing in the sense of the way it opened and also moving Getty's death back a little bit so that laid on top of it. Getty in reality died a year afterwards or something like that. Instead of having it happen after the fact, we have it be sort of contemporaneous as much as anything. The idea is to just set the margins as tight as possible in terms of start with the kidnapping and with the rescue, we're out.

It shows the extent Getty went to to hold onto every cent, down to manipulating the tax code. Is it apropos that All the Money in the World is coming out right after the new tax bill?

It's interesting that you say that. I've actually thought of that. That's a very perceptive question because it really is interesting. One of the things that struck me is this idea of we don't have enough money. We don't have enough money for the boy. You basically got people saying, "We don't have enough money for Medicaid. We don't have enough money for school lunches. We don't have enough money for food stamps" at the same time as they're like, "We have to have this huge tax [cut.]" It is very apropos.

all the money in the world review

It seems to come up every few years, whether the financial crisis or there's always some case between upper and middle/lower classes arguing what is enough. Is there any way for progress for the people who don't have money to get through to the wealthy?

I think part of the point the movie makes is that this vast wealth isn't even good for the wealthy. It's an impediment to their lives as well. As much as people like Getty are driven to amass as much of it as possible, it really serves no purpose for them. Hopefully that's a part of the subtext of the movie that people will see. I think Getty himself was a billionaire. At the time that was a vast, insane, mind blowing thing. Now billionaires are a dime a dozen. We've got this disparity of wealth that's even greater. I think there is a bigger metaphor to be drawn from this story about the value of human life, the question of what is enough? How much is enough for any given person? I think all of those are really relevant to this movie.

What is it that gives someone like Getty this disconnect to value money over his family?

I think the key, at least the way I conceived him, is he truly loves his grandson. His grandson is his favorite and we establish that in the movie. This is a man without anybody in his world. He doesn't have anybody. He's got women but they're women that are sort of utilitarian to him. He doesn't have love in his life and his relationship with his grandson is that. He truly loves him and wants him back, yet he can't part, he's so addicted to money he can't give it up. That is what creates this struggle within him. If he simply doesn't care about his grandson, there's no movie there. It's like, "I'm not going to give up the money. I don't care about this kid." It's much more interesting if he truly does love the kid. There's a scene basically where he says to Chase, "This boy means a lot to me. I don't know what would happen if I lost him. So I want you to get him as cheaply as possible." The guy's like, "What?" It's that internal contradiction. Even as he's thinking one thing, he's thinking its opposite which is I have to save [money].

It struck me in the divorce hearing between Gail and Getty II, Getty I really cannot understand how someone else wants nothing from him, because he's always trying to get something. 

Also, on some level there's a bit of a chess game going. She's saying, "I'm going to make this offer because I know he's incapable of refusing it. I know that if I put this on the table, he can't refuse. Hr's going to take the money over the kid." So she's playing him but he's also smart enough to realize that she's playing him. There's an element of respect on his part which is, "Wait, I expected this to go one way and now I'm being manipulated. She's gaming me. She's almost telling me she's gaming me." She says, "You can't help yourself" and he falls into it but then that creates this thing that nags at him for the rest of the movie which is, "I have to get equal. I have to get everything." Then we come to another boardroom later on and he comes back and gets it all.

Is there a way to convince someone who sees the world that way that there are people who don't want a piece of them, who just want to be in their lives for nothing?

It's hard I think for those people because I think part of the challenge is the people who are best at seeming as if they don't care about those things are often the people who are most manipulative. It's very hard if you get to know people who are either very wealthy or very famous or have some status aspect that people desire, those people spend a lot of their times not knowing truly whether people can be trusted, what people are in it for with them. They themselves mistrust other people on that basis.

Was it scripted that we see the ear cut off?

It was scripted in such a way that it could be done either way. That's a choice that you make. I think that's an editorial choice as much as anything. I think Ridley said he went back and forth in terms of whether he wanted to do it that way. Ultimately, he did.

When you adapted Cleopatra, did you focus on a specific period of her life?

Basically, it's focusing mainly narrowly. It's not this big sweeping thing. It's more of a political thriller which is focused largely around the death of Caesar. It's written not to be what you think of as the Cleopatra movie which is three hours long, but meant to be a very tight, dirty, aggressive thriller kind of movie as opposed to a presitgey [movie].

When it's that sort of ancient history, is the material a lot less detailed than the more recent history like All the Money in the World?

No, what's crazy is there's so much information about her. Because she was royalty, there's such an amazing amount of information about that world, not even in terms of Cleopatra or what we think of Roman leaders, but there's also a huge amount of information just about the way people lived and what they ate. All this stuff, there's tons and tons of it out there.

Denis Villeneuve has done movies in the present and in the future. What did he want to achieve with a historical film?

So far I have not talked to him about it. Basically, he was off doing press for Blade Runner, so I'm not really in a position to answer in terms of his approach.

Is The Cartel a different sort of assignment for Ridley than working on this?

It is. He and I are doing that together right now. I mean, it's very much in the vein of other things that he's done like American Gangster. It's a different world for him, slightly different world but it definitely fits into his work I think.

Is it a more linear Don Winslow adaptation than something like Savages?

Cartel is not that linear. Cartel is very Dickensian. Cartel is lots and lots of characters. It's a huge narrative, enormous narrative. It would take eons to adapt it absolutely faithfully. You would have to shoot 20 seasons of it. It's just vast so part of the challenge is how do we take this and turn it into a satisfying two hours and change experience. It's different. I hope it captures the essence of what Don was trying to do, but by the very nature of it, it's going to be a lot more economical.

Ridley has said his goal is to do three movies a year now. Does that change the way you write for him?

No, it doesn't change things for me because he likes big things. He likes bigness. The sense of scale at which I write doesn't have to change at all, but it is great for me because that level of aggression means we're going to go do it. We're going to go make this movie. We're going to make it happen, which is fantastic because for a writer, so much of your life is about waiting. The idea that you've got the opportunity to make three movies a year is fantastic.

What is American Wolf?

American Wolf is loosely based on the story of a hunter who was hunting a wolf up in Montana, a very famous cause celebre' wolf and the relationship between the hunter and the wolf. The subject of wolves is actually a huge issue up there in the west because they're seen by some as interlopers, outsiders, as a destructive force. There's two sides. There's an environmentalist side and there's a hunter side. So there's a huge source of controversy there so it's all about that drama.

What years were this?

It actually happened I think in '06 but we wound up having to make enough changes that it's much more of a fictional story that's based around that as opposed to the actual story of that .

Is it a lot of action hunting wolves in the woods?

It's action. It's in the vein of a Clint Eastwood movie or a Robert Redford movie or a Hemingway-esque kind of movie. On the surface it's a story about hunting but it's also a story about a lot of other things as well. It's about America in the sense of how we deal with outsiders and how we deal with things that seem to threaten us.

For how much of your process do you allow yourself to deep dive into research, and when do you tell yourself you have to stop and just write?

I think there's a point where I know what the movie is. Then I'm getting details and I'm soaking up details. Then there's a point where I have more details than I can possibly use. That's basically when I'm done because if I get any more I'm just going to make my life miserable by trying to accommodate it all.